Forget financial regulations or the NSA, the biggest division in the Democratic Party in the future will probably be over education reform.
Slate’s Matthew Yglesias made a great point the other day in what the next big battles in the Democratic Party will be over. As he sees it, all this talk about “economic populism” is really quite misplaced. And the reason is pretty simple, Democrats by and large agree that the financial industry should be more regulated and taxes should be higher on the rich. So while there may be differences inside the party about how high taxes should be, there isn’t much ideological difference at all:
Obviously a 10 percent leverage ratio is different from an 8 percent one and a 42 percent marginal tax rate is different from a 29 percent one. But in terms of what the parties stand for, you don’t see anyone in the Democratic Party seriously contesting the view that, relatively to the GOP, the Democrats should be the party of high taxes and stringent bank regulation.
There are however major ideological differences inside the Democratic Party about how improve public education even if Democrats by and large agree that it should be improved. While both sides by and large support liberal priorities like an expanded social safety net and aggressive attempts to tackle the issue of poverty, they differ on a number of other key issues. Both camps are pretty broad churches, but in general reformers want things like greater teacher accountability for results, greater flexibility in teacher certification and hiring, and alternatives to struggling public schools via things like charter schools. While anti-reformers like a lot of teachers’ unions oppose these sorts of things.
The result is vastly different interpretations in matters of education policy by people who voted Democratic. New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait responded to allegations that public school teachers in Atlanta cheated on their student’s standardized tests, sometimes called “juking the stats”, by arguing that it wasn’t really a big deal at all. Meanwhile Eugene Robinson, a liberal columnist for The Washington Post, responded by declaring all education reform efforts involving tests to be useless:
It is time to acknowledge that the fashionable theory of school reform—requiring that pay and job security for teachers, principals and administrators depend on their students’ standardized test scores—is at best a well-intentioned mistake, and at worst nothing but a racket.
This isn’t a debate over the marginal rates of capital gains taxes, it’s an ideological debate over whether teachers can and should be held accountable for if their students learn or not. There’s not a whole lot of middle ground in that fight.
The Obama era has resulted in a lot of victories for the reformers with Democratic politicians like Rahm Emanuel and Cory Booker gaining national profiles and major reform efforts, like Race to the Top, being enacted on the federal level.
But there’s nothing that makes this trend irreversible. In fact, since distancing yourself from Hillary Clinton will be a major task for all the Democratic contenders running for the nomination in 2016, positioning yourself as “the real progressive” because you are against reform or as a “tough reformer” by aggressively supporting it could be a pretty savvy strategy.
In short, don’t expect education reform to go away anytime soon.
Like The Good Men Project on Facebook
Photo by yooperann/Flickr